watercolorist John Pereirathe exhibition titled Once upon a time in Goawhich will be held at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai from February 21 to 27, showcases the region’s natural beauty, village life, local traditions and forms of architecture at a time when the state is struggling with the uncertainties of change.
Pereira graduated from the Goa College of Art in 2003 and his work has been featured in duo and group exhibitions. The Mumbai show will be the Fatorda resident’s first solo show.
In this interview, Pereira reflects on the current conditions of Goan artists, her artistic trajectory and the culture of Goa as a constant muse.
Once upon a time in Goa is your first solo exhibition and the one where the works are described as ‘fleeting moments in the evolution of Goa captured in watercolour’. What made you choose this theme for this collection?
The theme represents the nostalgic Goa of yesteryear. Mine is an attempt to bring the past into the present through my paintings. My work serves as a visual documentation of Goa’s natural beauty, culture and traditions, all of which struggle to cope with modern life. Through my art, I want to create an awareness of the beauty that surrounds us, something that most people take for granted.
I believe that culture is the soul of the place, its identity. Changing times require us to adapt to a way of life that advances us with new technologies and developments, but not at the expense of culture and the environment.
With tourism becoming an economic necessity in Goa, we seem to have failed to represent the essence of what Goa should be for us and even more so for visitors. Goa has mostly been described as a vacation destination focused on fun and beaches. Goa is more than that, as my art tries to capture it. It is also its inhabitants and their way of life.
Along with tourism, the rise of modern developments has caused property prices to skyrocket. In turn, this causes the Goans to abandon the ways of life they once knew, affecting the local culture and tradition, which makes Goa the place it is or was.
Through my paintings I hope to create awareness for people who lived in “once upon a time” Goa, a place they knew long before the internet age. Likewise, I want to give future generations food for thought, even though Goa is no longer the same.
Many of your paintings demonstrate an intimate knowledge of your subjects, be it Goan architecture, agricultural traditions, or the daily and traditional life of Goan villages. These themes are certainly a departure from the usual portrayal of Goa as a land meant to function solely as a tourist destination or the setting for a traveler’s second home. Would it be fair to say that you seek out these backdrops or do they call out to you and inspire you?
Most of my themes come from random memories from my childhood. Things like walking through villages, celebrations with traditional dances, or daily life events like farming, fishing, etc.
Sometimes, I visualize the subjects in my head and I manage to find them in real situations. I try to create a story in my paintings with the architectural settings I use, whether urban or rural. The natural beauty of an area complements the main subject I want to portray.
I was fascinated by the Italian baroque style and [16th-century Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo] Bernini’s works in particular. The combination of architecture, sculpture and paintings from that era has always been my inspiration.
It’s really interesting to learn that the Baroque inspires you because I see something of it in your work. It may be in the way you combine elements of the past with the Goa of today; even if it evokes something older, your art is simultaneously contemporary in the way it focuses on a region on the precipice of great change.
In a sense, the influence of Baroque in your paintings shouldn’t really come as a surprise as Goa itself produced an indigenous Baroque style.
In his bookWhitewashing, Red Stone: A History of Church Architecture, Paulo Varela Gomes considers how early modern churches in Goa display a mixture of locally created Baroque elements that bring together multiple European motifs with Islamic and other South Asian influences. This, of course, because Goa was a Portuguese colony but also, due to its coastal location, a conduit for travel and settlement of people and goods from multiple cultures.
While there is a widespread belief that the colonial architecture of Goa is Portuguese, it is in fact uniquely Goan due to the way these built forms were developed by the Goans and only exist in Goa.
Yet I also appreciate your spotlighting more humble institutions in Goa like the Village Tavern or the Mapusa Friday Market. These places may seem mundane, but by placing them on a par with the historical architecture on your canvas, you seek out their beauty and what they mean to the ordinary Goan person of whom they are an integral part, perhaps just as much as a holy shrine like a church. .
In their realism, your works reflect the aesthetics of Goa, bringing together architectural and natural elements as an observation of their symbiosis. I think there’s a profound commentary there, reminding Goans that they can create – and preserve – beauty while co-existing with the natural world, even though so much is changing around them. I want to ask you about the medium you use – watercolors. What led you to choose this form to express your own creativity? Do you also create in other media?
What you say about the Baroque form of Goa is convincing.
Yes, as a professional artist, I’m also comfortable working with other media, especially when it comes to commissioned work like portrait painting. However, I prefer watercolor even though it is a difficult medium. With watercolour, I allow myself to paint spontaneously, enjoying the brilliance and transparency of colors. I care less about perfection and I also love the chiaroscuro effect I achieve in my works through the use of watercolors.
From my understanding, there is little state support for local art in Goa, there is not even a museum where one can see the works of well-known artists of Goa. Despite this, are you able to find a community with other artists in your home country?
Yes, it is true that we do not have a museum specifically dedicated to known Goan artists. However, with the help of social media, I am able to engage with some of the best watercolor artists around the world. It helped me to further develop my creativity as an artist and a person. With local artists, I am amazed by the clay works of Verodina De Souza. His dedication and passion for his work is inspiring.
What can we expect to see from you next? Are there new things you would like to try artistically?
Well, I will present almost an overview of Goa, its beauty, culture and general architectural settings in my current exhibition. So my next challenge would be to soak up and get a feel for traditional rural Goan festivals and rituals. I want to represent what is raw and unique about the place and try to represent it in my work.
Goa is diverse in many ways and with changing times I would also like to create works that will have a bit more present. I want my art to be a link between past, present and future and reveal how I live life.
R Benedito Ferrão is a member of the Asian Centennial Faculty and Adjunct Professor of American English and Asian and Pacific Island Studies at William & Mary, Virginia, USA.